Kathleen Bell – aftermath

                        so, in the end
we stacked them anyhow,
forgot to grieve, forgot
even, what  corpses are –
                        just so much freight,
such ache and stretch of arms,
a muscle torn,
a shoulder wrenched,
                        and day wore on.
We carried.
                        Most we burned.
They charred like any other flesh
and it was hot, slow work.
When we were done, we found
a few remained.
                        These took our love.
We cherished them
even before we learned their names.
We know the dead are lost
and hold the living fast.

Kathleen Bell’s poems have been published in a number of magazines including PN Review, New Walk, Under the Radar and Litter, and in the anthologies A Speaking Silence and Crystal Voices. Her 2014 Oystercatcher pamphlet at the memory exchange was shortlisted for a Saboteur Award. She is currently working on a long sequence of poems about James Watt, provisionally titled Jamie’s Book of Ingenuity. Kathleen, who also writes fiction, teaches Creative Writing at De Montfort University.

Kathleen Bell – Registers


Monday, and Mrs Hill
calls out the register. You answer loudly,
sit straight up, and see
a big red tick. But when she calls
“Sureya”, there is silence.

Tuesday, and no Sureya. Mrs Hill begins
to call her name, then stops.
And later, in the playground
Sureya’s brother isn’t there.
You see your best friend James, and Marta,
and play with them.

Thursday. Sureya’s birthday.
You drew a card for her: a girl
with yellow hair and long pink dress
with a pink yo-yo, but you haven’t thought
who the girl is. She’s not Sureya
who has black hair and a blue dress.
Sureya spins a yo-yo too, and skips, best in the class.
Mum bought a present for Sureya. She grumbled
that presents are for parties. But Sureya’s poor
and can’t have parties at her house.
Mum bought a necklace with pink beads
and wrapped it up in sparkly stuff.
Sureya isn’t there.

So you ask Mrs Hill,
“Where is Sureya?” and she says,
“She’s in a place called Yarls Wood, going home.”
“So when will she be back?”
“She isn’t coming back.”
But that’s not sense.
Mrs Hill shakes some glitter from the card
and takes the present, says she’ll send them on.

You wait for days and weeks.
Sureya doesn’t write.
There’s still a tray
that has Sureya’s name,
a sticker by her peg,
the picture of a reindeer that she drew –
not very good –
with wonky antlers and sad eyes.

Christmas. You outline angels on a stable roof.
They’re practising their carols.
Only the ox and three cows stand to hear.
They munch straw from a manger.
Outside there’s desert sand, and trees.
“Well done,” says Mrs Hill.
She puts your picture on the wall.

New Year, and now she takes the pictures down.
Sureya’s name has vanished too.
You’re doing adjectives and long division
and there’s a new boy. He’s called Toby.
He looks nice.
You might be friends. He smiles.